The Giants instead signed three other linebackers to address their crisis at the position, and Armstead will have to watch them make a run at the franchise's fourth Super Bowl appearance from afar. Without Armstead, only five players remain from the team that got hot late five years ago and reached the big game in Tampa, Fla. But the fact that only Tiki Barber, Luke Petitgout, Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer and Shaun Williams are still Giants is hardly the only thing that separates the two teams.
Though this high-octane offense appears more impressive on paper, the remaining Giants on that side of the ball believe the 2000 team was more equipped to make a deep postseason run than the squad that is preparing to do so now.
"(The teams are) really not that similar, to be honest with you," Toomer said. "I think we were a totally different team then. I think we were more of a veteran team than this team. It's totally different.
"That team was a tough team to beat because we didn't make a lot of mistakes. We had mastered the systems that we were in and every time that teams tried to exploit our offense, we would take advantage of it. It's just totally different."
While the Giants seemingly have every reason to think they can emerge from a conference that doesn't include a dominant team, despite Seattle's remarkable record, they haven't quite developed that sense of invincibility Big Blue boasted after Jim Fassel's famous guarantee.
"We were playing as good as I think we ever played here (in 2000)," Barber said. "That season that Coach Fassel made the guarantee here, after we lost to the Detroit Lions, it allowed us to focus. We played in such a way where we knew we weren't going to lose. I think we're a little bit away from that still. We feel like every game we have to work to win. But if we ever get to that point again, I'll know it and we'll push well into the playoffs, hopefully."
Below is a position-by-position comparison between the 2000 and 2005 Giants.
Kerry Collins sometimes tried to force balls into tight spots, but overall was more accurate and less turnover-prone than Eli Manning has been during his first full season as a starter. Manning is every bit as confident as Collins appeared in what was his sixth season, but the necessary mechanical improvements have still not been made to prevent Manning from floating passes way over the heads of receivers. Edge: 2000.
Tiki Barber was very effective in his first season as the team's top tailback (1006 yards, 4.7 per carry), but began to show signs of his fumbling problem in 2000 (six fumbles, three lost). He is a more powerful, protective back today, one much more capable of taking over a game. FB Jim Finn has been as good a blocker as Greg Comella was five years ago, yet Comella was much more a part of the passing game (nearly three times as many catches). And Ron Dayne was much more productive during his rookie season than Brandon Jacobs (nearly 700 yards more). Edge: 2005.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
The Plaxico Burress-Amani Toomer tandem is more dynamic than the Toomer-Ike Hilliard duo. But Hilliard enjoyed his best season in 2000 and provided the toughness to make crucial catches across the middle, although Toomer has become more like Hilliard in that regard. Their third receiver in 2000, Joe Jurevicius (24 catches), was much more reliable than Tim Carter (10 receptions), too. Of course, the presence of Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey makes the days when Pete Mitchell and Howard Cross combined to catch 29 passes seem like a lifetime ago. Edge: 2005.
Bob Whitfield, the Giants' reserve veteran tackle, would've felt like a kid among Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker. Though aged and thinner, the 2000 line that featured Brown (LT), Parker (LG), Dusty Zeigler (C), Ron Stone (RG) and Petitgout (RT) was pretty proficient. The offensive fronts yielded about the same amount of sacks and Barber ran for at least 4.7 yards per carry behind both units. Edge: Even.
LDE Michael Strahan still draws double- and triple-teams, but now he has an end partner that makes teams pay plenty for focusing on him. First-time Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora has become everything Cedric Jones was supposed to be as a right defensive end. Inside, however, the combination of RDT Keith Hamilton (10 sacks), LDT Cornelius Griffin (five sacks) and Christian Peter was better at stuffing the run and pressuring quarterbacks than William Joseph, Kendrick Clancy, Kenderick Allen and Fred Robbins. Edge: 2000.
Health is the greatest obvious advantage the 2000 group has over this one. When the Carlos Emmons/Nick Greisen/Antonio Pierce group is healthy, however, this is a close call. MLBs Pierce and Mike Barrow both played at Pro Bowl levels in these respective seasons. Armstead's slippage didn't start until the 2001 season and he was a more diverse linebacker than Greisen is now. And the versatile Emmons, while hurt often and out for the playoffs, is clearly better on the strong side than Ryan Phillips. Edge: 2000.
Their weakness this season has been at right cornerback, where Curtis Deloatch struggled before rookie Corey Webster finally replaced him entering Saturday's finale at Oakland. They were weaker on the left side in 2000, when veteran Dave Thomas was inconsistent opposite Jason Sehorn. Gibril Wilson is a more complete strong safety than was Sam Garnes, but Shaun Williams was a more effective free safety than Brent Alexander, who has played pretty well this season. Edge: Even.
They're using only one roster spot for a kick returner and punt returner (Chad Morton), who has been better than Ron Dixon on kickoffs and about as efficient as Barber was on punt returns. At least now, though, they don't have to worry about their top tailback returning punts. Jay Feely is a little more reliable than was Brad Daluiso, and also has a stronger leg. Jeff Feagles is more consistent than was Brad Maynard, too. David Tyree alone makes the coverage units incomparable. Edge: 2005.
If popularity counted, Coughlin wouldn't waste his time entering this contest. Winning matters more than anything, though, and well, this team hasn't reached the Super Bowl yet. Edge: 2000.
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